Willets Point Suit Thrown Out

willets-pointYou may or may not know that the construction of Citi Field was a central part of a redevelopment plan in the gritty, commercial area of Queens known as Willets Point. Part of that plan included the “eviction” of many businesses in the area, particularly the auto repair shops and salvage yards that are viewed as eyesores by many — particularly the well-to-do who can afford the high price of tickets behind home plate.

A group of businessmen being forced out of Willets Point via eminent domain brought a suit against New York City, citing that their Constitutional rights had been violated. However, that suit has been thrown out by a Federal judge in Brooklyn.

I haven’t done enough research on the redevelopment plan, nor do I know much about Willets Point (other than what’s found via Google and the NYC tabloids), so I’m not going to get on a soapbox and argue for one side or the other. Generally speaking I don’t like the concept of eminent domain and really don’t like small businesses going out of business. But I’m assuming there’s much more to the story, and it would be great to hear from all sides.

That said it’s “open mic day” here at MetsToday — if you have any locally derived or personally connected information on the subject, and/or an opinion, please use the comments section as a platform.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Harry Chiti November 30, 2009 at 9:50 am
    Nothing better (not) than having a billionaire mayor to represent the wishes of his millionaire firends. Screw the hard working average guy. We don’t want some rich person having to look at something like a real work site do we? We need another overpirced chain bar/restaurant chain to make the richies feel comfortable, don’t we?
  2. LibertyBoyNYC November 30, 2009 at 12:12 pm
    Joe, as a resident of Maspeth, Queens I’ve been following this issue very closely for some time. The first point of discussion is that the city is claiming that the area is blighted and using this claim to justify eminent domain to grab the land. What most people don’t know is that the business owners – the area is mostly lawfully owned and operated, contrary to the public misconception – have been paying taxes for years and not getting the proper services for their contribution to the city’s coffers. This includes sewage upkeep, garbage disposal, the installation of storm drains in the streets (there are none and never been, causing regular floods), street repair, snow plowing – basically, every service that SHOULD be provided to a commercial zone has been underprovided or not provided at all. The result? You guessed it, what the city would term “blight”. In case you’re not following:
    1) lawful businesses pay taxes to the city for services
    2) services are not ever provided by the city
    3) the city determines that the area is blighted because it’s so crappy looking, which it wouldn’t be if the city provided services.
    4) owners get booted without getting a real market price for their land.

    The Willets Point owners have been deprived of the right to collectively bargain for the price of their land, which would mean that the development corporation would have to negotiate a fair price for it, whereas through eminent domain the CITY determines market price, and since there are no services and the CITY has determined the land “blighted”, the price would obviously be lower than if one were to consider it prime – which it is, obviously. Land doesn’t grow on trees, land close to highways, trains, hotels, and airports and the biggest sports market in the nation doesn’t grow on trees, either.

    I hope I haven’t bored anyone with the details, but if you would like to follow more closely, please hit the following:


  3. LibertyBoyNYC November 30, 2009 at 12:22 pm
    What I should add is that this one of several lawsuits that the local businesses have filed against the pseudo-private development corporation, so the fight isn’t over – is in the Atlantic Yards project, another example of Bloomberg’s cabal crapping all over people.
  4. BigJohnStud November 30, 2009 at 12:51 pm
    What most people don’t know is that the business owners – the area is mostly lawfully owned and operated, contrary to the public misconception – have been paying taxes for years and not getting the proper services for their contribution to the city’s coffers. .. – basically, every service that SHOULD be provided to a commercial zone has been underprovided or not provided at all.

    The judge in the lawsuit decided this claim was bsaeless and threw the case out of court.

  5. Andy November 30, 2009 at 1:09 pm
    It is a really crappy tactic, even if it is permitted by the constitution.
  6. joejanish November 30, 2009 at 1:11 pm
    LibertyBoy – thanks for enlightening us. Don’t underestimate the man on the street!

    BigJohnStud – yes, we are aware what the judge did — it is basically the headline of the post. But I’d like to learn more about why he found the claim baseless, from the perspective of those who are closer to the issue than I. So far we have one side of the story, and hoping we get more (there are three sides to every story, right?).

  7. BigJohnStud November 30, 2009 at 1:17 pm
    IM not sure any side of the story has been given .. The reasons for the decision are in the 22 page judgment.

    1. The City has the right to determine long term plans for areas and develop projects such as this.

    2. The City has the right to allocate resources to infrastructure projects (sewers, streets, subway service) when and where it sees the most benefit.

    3. The landowners took 40 plus years to bring the suit and only after they are threatened with Eminent Domian.

    4. Just because an entity pays taxes they are not “entitled” to any services. Based on past precedent.

  8. BigJohnStud November 30, 2009 at 1:27 pm
    As a point for fact and clarification.

    The suit was the landowners claiming they have a constitutional right to certain services because they pay taxes and the City has been purposely denying those services in a 40 year effort to buy the land up at cheap prices.

    The chief found both claims baseless and threw it out of court.

    So most of what “LibertyBoyNYC” says above is the same rhetoric that the judge summarily dismissed.

  9. Andy November 30, 2009 at 1:33 pm
    Still, from a policy perspective (setting aside what the law actually says), I maintain that it’s crappy to withhold services from a neighborhood, and then declare it “blighted” so as to facilitate a forced purchase and redevelopment.

    It’s also kind of silly, given all the empty condos and office buildings already scattered throughout the five boroughs, (including several nearby in the Flushing/Main Street area), to put together a re-development plan calling for – you guessed it – condos and office buildings. I’m all in favor of mixed-use neighborhoods, but I think this one is just going to sit empty. Also, must NYC concede the entire chop-shop market to LI and NJ?

  10. BigJohnStud November 30, 2009 at 1:40 pm
    Andy – your first paragraph is in complete contrast to what the judge decided.

    The judge found no reason to believe ANY of that statement and threw the case out of court.

    He found NO evidence of a 40 year policy to deny services for the express purpose of declaring the site blighted and then buying up the land cheap for a redevelopment.

    Just because you and others have this conspiracy theory doesnt mean it is true or based in any fact and the Judge decided it had no basis in fact.

  11. BigJohnStud November 30, 2009 at 1:44 pm
  12. LibertyBoyNYC November 30, 2009 at 1:55 pm
    “Big” John “Stud”, thanks for cutting and pasting text from the judgement and declaring yourself generalissimo of the thread. I consider myself enlightened by your flawless intellect.

    That said, the word “entitlement” is a linguistic timebomb that blows minds, but this isn’t about entitlement – it’s about property. They want the property. Ask yourself, cui bono?

    BTW I am middle class, and as a Queens resident I pay some of the highest tax rates in America with the lowest ratio of services provided, so maybe you’re swimming in gold coins like Scrooge McDuck but I work for a living and I’ll be damned if I’m silent about a crooked, blatant land-grab.

  13. LibertyBoyNYC November 30, 2009 at 2:02 pm
    “Rhetoric”…what a joke you are, I’m not running for office. Just happen to believe in the right of an owner to actually OWN his or her property.
  14. joejanish November 30, 2009 at 2:02 pm
    BigJohnStud – First, thanks for the link. Second, perhaps I should have stated “argument” or “opinion” or “viewpoint” rather than “story” — my bad for not being clear. LibertyBoy gave us his “viewpoint” of the decision based on his personal feelings and relative proximity to the area. In return you have provided your “viewpoint” in terms of the letter of the law. For that, I thank you.

    Now let’s start the argument!

    OK, so based on the letter of the law, the City has the right to take property away from people as they see fit. Often it is for the benefit of the masses — the examples you give are excellent (subway, sewers, etc.).

    And you bring up a good point — why did it take the landowners 40+ years to bring the suit?

    As for the taxes issue, technically that’s true — there is no entitlement.

    Now, I will walk out of the letter of the law and ask:

    – what benefit is it to the masses to redevelop Willets Point? More to the point, WHO is most benefitting from the redevelopment? The developers? Actually we won’t know until far down the line, when/if the area is regentrified.

    – Maybe the landowners brought suit now because their back was to the wall, and had to come up with something to save their businesses. Perhaps before there was no eminent domain in their faces, they had no viable reason to band together and demand improvements. Or maybe the business owners did consider or bring suits against the City, and we didn’t hear about it (or don’t remember it). I don’t know, which is why I’d like to probe beyond what was in the 22-page judgment.

    – to flip that argument, why after 40 years is the City now taking an interest in Willets Point? Why was it OK to not provide services when it was Shea Stadium and a bunch of auto shops, but now that Citi Field has been built it needs to be improved?

    – I believe the British used to tax the people in the New World, and similarly denied them entitlement to any services. That didn’t go over so well.

    Why is it a “conspiracy theory” if people are unhappy with the decision? Maybe the City didn’t purposely ignore the area thinking that some day they’d redevelop it and make billions of dollars, but isn’t there something wrong with allowing an area to naturally develop as a commercial zone, allowing people to build dozens of businesses over a 40-year period in the area, then deciding to completely change the area because one of those businesses is not like the others? Why does one baseball entertainment business trump the interestes of dozens of industrial and service-oriented businesses? Who is going to gain the most from this, and how is it going to help the city as a whole by kicking out industry and replacing it with “pretty” condos, office space, and maybe another Danny Meyer restaurant?

    Auto shops and waste management services may not be as pretty, but they are essential — they have to exist somewhere. And they employ people with specific skillsets. As Andy brought up there is plenty of open office space and empty condos available throughout the five boroughs. Not to mention many RESIDENTIAL neighborhoods that would benefit from the City’s help.

  15. Andy November 30, 2009 at 2:09 pm
    I still think it’s crappy even given the facts outlined by BigJohn. I think it’s an issue of causation, not intent.

    Also, as Joe points out, the gov’t was fine with the supposedly “blighted” nature of the neighborhood for 40 years. They happily taxed the businesses there that whole time without providing services, and those business, having paid their taxes, may not have had the capital left to install sewers, etc. on their own.

    So to take this neighborhood, formerly a cash cow, and stab it in the back as soon as some gov’t urban planner comes up with a “better” idea, well, again, I have to call that crappy policy.

    Of course, my perspective is colored by the fact that I have a rather old-fashioned view of eminent domain – viz that I believe its use should be limited to true public endeavors such as fire houses and missile silos. This is a minority view, but I think it will gain some currency after the Kelo case and the disaster that became of the New London re-development post-Kelo.

    Still, I find this particular case particularly unfair, since the “blight” determination suggests (at least in common parlance) that the owners didn’t properly maintain their properties and punishes those owners by opening them up to forced sales on the cheap. In fact, these owners were using and maintaining their properties appropriately for the plan the gov’t planners had for the past 40 years.

  16. LibertyBoyNYC November 30, 2009 at 2:19 pm
    Sorry for getting hot, Joe, but I am glad you brought up the Kelo case in which homeowners were booted off their land against their will so that Pfizer could build an R&D facility – unfair price paid, family homes razed, a slapdown from teh judicial system, the whole nine. Turns out Pfizer closed up shop after a time and the property now lies abandoned and the fields fallow. For what? Who benefits?

    BTW there are no hospitals being put up on this site, no fire houses, etc. In fact, Bloomberg has closed two hospitals in Queens and I guess a dozen or so fire houses.

    College Point was selected as the site for the new police academy; eminent domain was not needed to push that project through.

    I’m not Che-tshirt wearing pinko. I just know what’s happening in my community and most NYC residents outside of the Kingdom of Manhattan know what’s up.

  17. LibertyBoyNYC November 30, 2009 at 2:21 pm
    Sorry, thanks Andy for the Kelo mention…it’s entirely appropriate to this discussion IMO.
  18. BigJohnStud November 30, 2009 at 2:25 pm
    Im not so sure the city was “fine” with the blight that is Willets Point for 40 years.

    I think it has slipped through the cracks. Redevelopment has been delayed for decades by crafty lawyers like Mario Cuomo and a shift in priorities to Manhattan.

    We can make this a general ED debate if you’d like.. but that has been done a thousand times.. The courts see things in a specific way and they have been very clear on that.

    The fact is Willets Point is a text book example of blight and it needs to be cleaned up. And if the City has to use the power of ED to get the landowners to sell then so be it.

  19. BigJohnStud November 30, 2009 at 2:35 pm
    One thing on Kelo and ED in general.

    The failures of the development in New London have less to do with any fatal flaw in the use of Ed and more to do with the lengthy legal process and the ineptitude of some government officials.

    I can easily make mention of the original WTC site which was an historic ED case pre Kelo and led to billions in added revenue and uncalcuable public benefit — terrorist strike not withstanding God rest their soles.

    Or the early 1900s when the Govt routinely turned land over to private Rail Road developers.

  20. LibertyBoyNYC November 30, 2009 at 2:42 pm
    “I think it has slipped through the cracks. Redevelopment has been delayed for decades by crafty lawyers like Mario Cuomo and a shift in priorities to Manhattan.”

    Must have been awfully big cracks. Have you been to Flushing lately? It’s right on the other side of a short bridge from the Iron Triangle and it’s anything but “abandoned”.

    Wait a second…this whole stinking mess couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that undeveloped real estate fronting the East River is skyrocketing in price, and cheap land within spitting distance of Manhattan is nowhere to be found in the outerboroughs anymore, could it? Williamsburg, Hunters Point, LIC, Greenpoint – all of these are waterfront areas that took years of slow gentrification mixed with solid steps forward in tower development, producing years of gradual but steadily unwavering upticks in property values. The City is trying to ramhorn Flushing West down the citizen’s throats and this land grab benefits no one but other private owners.

  21. LibertyBoyNYC November 30, 2009 at 2:56 pm
    WTC is still owned by the Port Authority. Who will own Willets Point? The MTA?

    It’s not like we’re settling the Wild West here, I don’t think the argument is over whether or not eminent domain has EVER netted public good; the argument is over whether eminent domain is applicable to these properties for the intended purposes.

  22. BigJohnStud November 30, 2009 at 3:17 pm
    land is OWNED by the Port Authority but it has been LEASED to private parties since it was first developed.

    TEh larger issue is whether ED should be used for projects that may provide some public purpose but are not necessarily public projects in the vain of Schools, roads.. etc. The courts have been very clea on this.

    I agree tHe issue HERE is whether ED is applicable for its purpose. A valid use of ED is the elimination of Blight. Clearly this area is the text book definition of blight. Will 5,000 hosing units, largely for low income, and the many other “public good’s” mentioned offset the 200 or so small businesses having to either sell out of move on? That has been decided by City Council and ultimately the Courts. But the blight case is compelling on its own

  23. BigJohnStud November 30, 2009 at 3:42 pm
    And if you’ve ever been to Willets Point it is Very very much like settling the wild west.
  24. LibertyBoyNYC November 30, 2009 at 4:08 pm
    As a matter of fact, I go to Willets Pt. when I need any window glass on my car replaced because I normally get a better price than at the dealer (I drive a Toyota Corolla in the city) and they do the work very quickly and efficiently. I would wager to say that you have NEVER stepped a lil’ piggy of yours into the Iron Triangle, much less actually communicated with anyone there, just by the tone of your dispersions I sense that you speak in generalities and further misconceptions rather than give of yourself to a discussion.

    Among the many aspects of this situation that you don’t realize is that “5,000 low-income housing units” is simply polical-ese for “5,000 units that will vote Democratic on a regular basis”. But I’m sure that has nothing to do with anything, either. Besides, low income housing – especially when you are displacing a commercial zone that actually provides the “low income” part of “low income housing” – has an AWESOMELY EXCELLENT effect on local businesses.

    If there is something that a middle-class private-business owning Queens property owner needs, it’s MORE low income housing obtained via eminent domain, right? Because THAT is CERTAIN to bring about local prosperity, right?

    It wouldn’t look like the “Wild West” if the City had built storm drains, maintained roads, built sidewalks, etc. but I think we’ve already established that.

  25. BigJohnStud November 30, 2009 at 4:15 pm
    you would lose that wager that Ive never been to the Iron triangle. Congratulations on getting your window fixed cheaply. Unfortunately, the lower cost you paid is supported by the environmental pollution perpetrated by the landowners and businesses who routinely bury poisonous chemicals and liquids rather than dispose of them properly. Lets blame that on the City rather than the business owners who dump hydraulic fluid, anti freeze, used oil and paint solvents into the ground on their property that they will not allow city environmental inspectors to test.

    The only thing that has been established is that the City has no obligation to spend on infrastructure for the area and has made no concerted effort to lower property values so as to buy the land on the cheap.

  26. BigJohnStud November 30, 2009 at 4:18 pm
    Hey.. lets complain about getting rid of the Chinese shops in Flushing where you can buy a bootleg DVD of any movie for a few bucks. Who cares that they are breaking the law by doing this. I get cheap movies!!

    Who cares where that hub cap or auto part I bought in Willets Point came from!! I want cheap parts for my car.

  27. BigJohnStud November 30, 2009 at 4:25 pm
    IM not arguing that the WP businesses dont provide a service. Even if it is skirting the law. T

    he case for ED is based on BLIGHT and Blight removal. And the City has a right to clean up blight.

    Dont worry, you’ll find a place to buy your knock off, non warrantied, questionably acquired, non certified auto parts. You will just have to drive to a different area.

  28. Jon November 30, 2009 at 4:54 pm
    Seems to me the opposition to the city’s redevelopment plan is really about the business owners being certain they are compen$ated for leaving. And they should try and get every dollar they can, which explains their concern that the city may have been purposefully depressing the value of the land.

    The court decision makes it clear the city wasn’t doing that though. And it’s not like they’re being thrown out on the street. Many of the businesses in the IT have already been offered and accepted relocation to other parts of the city like College Point (and on improved land).

  29. LibertyBoyNYC November 30, 2009 at 6:04 pm
    I get my bootlegs in the subway like a civilized human being, thank you very much, again if you knew the city which you DON’T you wouldn’t keep making an ass of yourself by purporting to be experienced when you are not.

    BTW the “legal factory” parts are largely produced in China too, numbnuts, if not the parts themselves than the raw materials simply because environmental laws constrict…ah screw it, what’s the point with you?

    All of a sudden your WP owners are polluters too, and the only ones in NYC, Senator Gore? Did you copy and paste that winning comment from the trial proceedings, or are you just making stuff up now I mean again? What’s the next BJS comment, “Willets Point business owners are RACIST NAZI WHORE MONGERS, AND, THE ROOT CAUSE OF THAT OCCASIONAL PAIN IN YOUR ASS AND OH YEAH DENGUE FEVER.”

    I don’t care if they sell wax lips and blowup dolls, if they are doing it lawfully then let no one impede them.

    BONUS Can anyone tell me what the word “PROPERTY” means?

  30. BigJohnStud November 30, 2009 at 6:16 pm
    Not all of a sudden.. They’ve been polluting that place for years. It is just an aspect of the blight. Not the complete story.

    The history of illegal activity in the area is well documented. Google it. And Google the Environmental issues. They too are well documented.

    I could really care less what they sell and whether it is illegal. But dont expect people to believe Willets Point is the only place in the metro area to get window glass replaced cheaply. Nor that everything is on the up and up down there.

    “PROPERTY RIGHTS”, the actual phrase you should be familiar with, is very clearly defined in this country over the course of 200 plus years. It is also something you are violating by purchasing bootleg DVDs on the subway. But why try to explain that to you.

  31. joejanish November 30, 2009 at 11:19 pm
    Hey! No jokes about Dengue fever! I actually HAD Dengue a couple years ago! Use swine flu or malaria or better yet the black plague, OK ?

    What’s most interesting about taking care of the “blight” in Willets Point is this: why is there no movement to take care of the “blight” in the Bronx — specifically, the area around Yankee Stadium? For the same 40 years, that area has been a scary neighborhood, and equally worthy of “redevelopment”. Another area that’s “slipped through the cracks”, I guess.

    Hmm … maybe because it’s a much easier “sell” to the media to displace a bunch of unsightly auto shops and garbage businesses than it is to move actual people from their residences. And furthermore, a few dozen businesses are only a few dozen VOTES, whereas a few thousand residents is a few thousand votes.

  32. BigJohnStud December 1, 2009 at 1:04 am
    The area around Yankee stadium doesnt even compare to the area around City.. Thats just silly.
  33. Queens Crapper December 7, 2009 at 10:54 pm
    There goes Biggie Smalls again (aka BigJohnStud) using the EDC’s talking points.

    Just so everyone is aware, Mr. Smalls has gone to great length to espouse his ridiculous position on every website that mentions Willets Point. He has a tendency to denigrate the owners in these forums and make up stories about them. He also creates aliases and uses them to talk to himself.

    The BEST is that the recent Columbia decision is likely to start a real push for eminent domain reform in the state of New York, and it’s about time.

  34. back in black December 7, 2009 at 11:24 pm
    wow great pick up crapper mr edc propaganda man himself explaining how it is right to screw the working man in this city. oh and it is the city’s fault. oh and what a GREEN project this will be with the 80,000 car trips a day and all the toxins produced by the cars lmfao and the traffic thats been swept under the rug ( BUT NOW IS BEING EXPOSED) THIS IS ALL ABOUT GREEDY DEVELOPERS AND CROOKED POLITICIANS!!! READ TODAYS NY POST AND HOW THE TIDE IS TURNING…..SAY HELLO TO RAFFIE MR SMALLS LMFAO